By Rik Williams, on 18 March 2015
I’m Rik Williams, Web Content and User Experience Manager at UCL. I’m responsible for leading user research activities which help make sure that ucl.ac.uk meets the real needs of its customers and the university.
On the 2nd and 3rd of March WAMS and PAMS headed to City Interaction Lab to assess the usability of the new Undergraduate Prospectus branch of the website. Recruiting students is an essential function for the UCL site. Indeed the Prospective Students section underpins at least 26% of all visits to ucl.ac.uk, even though it only has ±1% of the webpages.
We found that the new site is generally effective, and improves upon its predecessor, but that there aspects that we can make easier to use for the customer.
What we did
We recruited seven participants who were representative of the cross-section of our prospective undergraduate student customers. We set scenarios which were mapped to the principal tasks, user journeys and content areas across the Prospective Students site. For example we made sure that we tested not only the new Undergraduate site but also those which support it, like Accommodation and Visit UCL. We asked our participants to think-out-loud as they completed the scenarios using a range of devices, like tablet computers and smartphones.
What we learned
The PAMS team observed a video feed of the testing sessions in an observation room (ably facilitated by Alex Pardoe from ISD). During these sessions they recorded how they thought the websites helped or frustrated the participants as they attempted to complete the scenarios. These observations where then grouped by type and severity in a short workshop after the last research session.
Three things that worked well
A representative quote:
A good-looking website on top of the fact that it’s a really helpful website discussing pretty much everything I could think of about the course itself.
- Finding a degree course (A-Z, Subject Area) worked very well. The process of finding collections of suitable degree programmes was very efficient and intuitive. There is scope to improve aspects course search to make it more consistent and effective, but in general it worked very well.
- The degree template has to structure and present a complex and voluminous range of content for a programme. This template is effective, in particular its primary navigationn which links to each of the sections on the page. This was especially true on mobile devices where this navigation responded well to the screen size of the devices used.
- Finding entry requirements for a degree is an essential task but the content needed is very complex. This is because our customers come from all over the world and many education systems. The mechanism for grade equivalences is discoverable, easy to use and better than (most) of the competition.
Three things that need improving
A representative quote:
I feel very frustrated to be honest. I [just] don’t know why I’m being asked all this information. I don’t feel very comfortable about it.
- a hierarchical approach to content design undermined user journeys. For example: it is very difficult to move between the undergraduate website and the accommodation website. Future projects will need to consider user journeys by making sure that they are defined, join-up and are achievable.
- users tended to satisfice when looking for information. This meant that they often didn’t find the optimal content for their tasks. For example: they would find a selection of scholarships on a degree page but miss the link the index of all scholarships.
- the CRM form, which allows prospective students to register their interest in UCL, is very hard to complete. This is because of its complexity, scale and the need to create an account with UCL.
PAMS and WAMS will be working on implementing solutions iteratively as we work on the Prospective Students site.
Find out more
Contact WAMS if you would like to learn more about how effective your website or application might be, along with the other services we offer: